From Australia… to the United Kingdom! San Francisco resident Anna Scanlon is currently pursuing a PhD in history from the University of Leicester in England, where she’s also a writer and author. She chronicles her journey on her blog Anna in Wonderland and you can get to know her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube too! Today, she shares a few things she wished people knew about disabilities…
I can’t speak for everyone who has a disability. There are so many disabilities and each person that has one is a unique and complex individual, with their own thoughts and opinions. So with this, I can only speak about myself and my experiences; however, I will be speaking in generalities as this list encompasses things many disabled people and I have discussed.
For those of you who don’t know me, I blog over at Anna in Wonderland. If you peruse my blog for a few moments (unless you’ve happened on a post about health), I probably look like a perfectly healthy woman. However, that is not the case. Since I was 20-years-old, I have had a disease called Lupus SLE. Although it is very complicated and each case is different, I sum it up by saying that it means my body mistakes its own healthy tissue for invader or “sick” cells and attacks it. This results in mind-numbing fatigue, arthritis, generalized pain and feeling like I have the flu a good several times a month. Thus far, my Lupus has not been life-threatening, but as you can imagine, it can be fatal as the body may begin to mistake a vital organ for an invader.
With that in mind, here are 10 things that I wish people knew about disabilities…
1. Not all disabilities are visible: Just because you can’t see outwardly what is wrong with someone, don’t assume that they’re faking it for a parking pass or to cut the line at Disneyland. Of course, some people play the system, but in my experience, that is very rare. But because not all disabilities are visible, it doesn’t mean you should open your mouth and question someone if you think they are scamming the system. My mom, who had polio as a child and cannot walk long distances due to a deformity in her legs (which can’t be seen when she’s wearing long pants), was once questioned by some random man in a Target parking lot for using her handicap sticker. The bottom line: It isn’t your business and you aren’t the handicap sticker/line at Disneyland police.
2. You can ask questions: This means you take an interest in us and want to know more about the difficulties we face. Lupus isn’t a bad word and you can mention it to me and you can ask me anything. Most people with disabilities feel similarly. It is better to ask than assume.
3. We aren’t looking for sympathy: If we’re sick, you can wish us well or say that you’re sorry, but we don’t need you pointing out all of the things in life we’ve missed or are missing out on. We’re already aware of that, and we don’t need someone to point it out, even in concern.
4. Don’t treat us differently: If someone is in a wheelchair, using crutches or a mobility device, it doesn’t mean they also have an intellectual disability. And if someone is intellectually disabled, they just want to be talked to like everyone else and not talked down to. We’re all people here — and we’re all on this planet rotating through space together!
5. We aren’t summed up by our disease or disability: That is just one aspect of our lives, although it may play a very big part. Everyone with a disability is a complex human, just like those who are not disabled. Unless were at a conference for a disability or positioning ourselves as speakers for a certain disability, we want to talk about other things we are interested in most of the time.
6. We aren’t an inspiration: It’s fine to feel inspired by our stories or grateful for your own life and abilities, but we don’t exist to “teach you a lesson” or to “inspire you to keep going.” We’re people in our own right and have struggles and breakdowns coping with our disability that are less than inspiring!
7. Don’t tell us how young we are: We know most young people don’t go in and out of the hospital or use wheelchairs or canes. We know most young people don’t have arthritis or general pain. We know most young people don’t face the same challenges we do. We don’t need to be reminded of this as it can sometimes make things even harder.
8. We have good and bad days, just like everyone else: Many people with disabilities struggle with accepting their disability, especially if it happened later in life. This can cause a lot of internal turmoil and goes with the idea that we aren’t an inspiration. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean we don’t have very challenging days when we just want to give up.
9. Don’t tell us everything happens for a reason: Well, maybe this one is a bit more personal for me as some people may be okay with it. However, I really don’t like being told that having Lupus was part of some grand plan to teach me something or that God has picked his strongest soldiers to fight the hardest battles. Personally, I think sometimes stuff like this comes down to genes and bad luck.
10. Having a disability isn’t our fault: While this may seem like a no-brainer, there has been a recent trend within the last few years that purports certain eating habits result in all kinds of illnesses and disabilities and simply “correcting” them will make you better. This is ridiculous and somewhat insulting to our intelligence. Of course, a healthy balanced diet is key for anyone, but that doesn’t mean cutting out a food group is going to suddenly cure an incurable disease or make someone’s autism go away. Most of us are well aware of the most current research surrounding our particular conditions and would likely already be aware if there was something that could help or cure the disease.